Saturday, June 30, 2012

How much should a child carry on a hike?

Infants through 4 year olds shouldn’t be expected to carry anything. Preschoolers might use a trekking pole or collect interesting stuff found on the way, but they probably won’t carry any of it for long. Small day packs are fine for healthy 5-7 year olds. A low volume internal day pack is okay for 9-12 year olds.

A good rule of thumb for how much they can carry is no more than 25 percent capacity of their backpack. Most upper elementary school age kids can carry only about 10 pounds for any short distance. Subtract the weight of the backpack, and that usually means only 4-5 pounds goes in.

I’ve seen some formulas that say a child should be able to carry a pound of weight for every five pounds they weigh. A 90-pound child then would be able to carry 18 pounds. This formula seems overly optimistic, however. A physically fit, athletic teenager probably can carry this much, and as they near adulthood, more. But don’t expect this of your fourth grader – and especially not of your preschooler.

Increase the amount that children carry as they grow and are capable of taking on more weight. Once a teenager, they can move up to small adult backpacks and carry some of the load that you usually take. Still, limit the amount your teens carried based on their abilities.

Read more about day hiking with children in my guidebook Hikes with Tykes.